Intensity without worry?
Today is my last day in Utah, and over the last few days I've had quite the introduction to what's going on in the dog world right now. I have been surrounded by a huge variety of trainers, and learning about the various schools of thought that are popular at the moment. I've never thought about dog training in such a structured way, because it is not my livelihood, so it's been wonderful to really immerse myself among so many trainers.
Last night at a BBQ, some bite dogs were pulled out and I got to watch their trainers working them. I certainly was surprised to see some of the softest moments I've seen occur with these animals. That was not what I expected. I have very little exposure to sporting dogs of any sort, but what I have seen in a general sense has been a level of chaos and worry in a very driven dog that makes me rather uncomfortable. The same feeling I get when watching most competitive horses, in any equine sport. The animals are often amazingly obedient, but have to be pretty upset inside to perform at the intensity level desired.
But the dogs I saw yesterday had been trained by some very thoughtful trainers, and I loved seeing the moments where the dogs could be engaged and certainly intense, but absolutely present. It wasn't worry that was driving them.
One discussion I had with one of these handlers revolved around how to cultivate the desire to bite. These dogs are certainly genetically predisposed to bite, but one can elicit it in so many ways. To corner a dog and give it no other options but to bite when it feels pressure will create a bite dog. But not one that is trustworthy in the world, and certainly not one that is settled inside.
I was interested to learn about this, and how he put a strong foundation in these dogs to search. In my language, it sounded to me like the ways to get a dog to bite were just like the ways you can train a horse: they can either perform because they are reacting to something because of a level of worry, or because they are responding because they are thinking and taking an interest.
Just like I don't want my horse moving simply to avoid a spur instead of taking an interest and going somewhere, it was lovely to see these dogs bite not just to try and create space for themselves. The level of direction, praise and search that were presented to the animal during these training sessions was impressive! Not to mention these dogs were balanced enough emotionally that one of the trainers had his toddler son in on the action, and between training, the dogs were quietly engaging with the baby in a lovely manner.
I'm not sure where I'm headed with my own work with dogs, but I'm sure enjoying my time spent engaging on these subjects with people that have thought a lot about why they do things the way they do with dogs.